28 Jan 2016 The Return of Premium

Few conversations about the stock photo industry over the past decade have been able to avoid the topic of microstock.  It definitely had its impact and found its place in the market.

But it’s no longer the sole area of growth, innovation and new ventures.

Producers who’ve grown up with microstock are now turning their attention to higher priced opportunities.

Buyers with the necessary budgets are seeking out relief from wading through mountains of low-quality images by turning to more highly curated collections.

And entrepreneurs starting businesses in this industry are rejecting the ways of the microstock model.


Some of the top microstock photographers I speak with are tired of the volume race of microstock. Others are just keen on producing content that’s more artistic, more expressive, or for a more specialised market instead of the generic concepts that work well in microstock.

Andres Rodriguez is now shooting exclusively for iStock where their higher-priced collection and the connection with Getty Images raises the average sale price well above microstock levels.

Sean Prior’s WaveBreakMedia and other big production companies have their ‘premium’ collections on Fotolia’s Infinite and various other similarly-priced outlets, dedicating a consistent portion of their production resources to the premium segment – around 15% in Sean’s case.

Cavan Images shooters are reporting the highest RPIs of all those I hear about these days.  Total earnings are suppressed a little due to the super tight edits (they average 30 selects per shoot), but then bolstered by the fact Cavan does the edit, retouch, keywording and distribution.

Many Stocksy contributors tell me they’ve no longer producing for microstock, but are exclusively focused in shooting for Stocksy.


The “you’re saving my marriage” story from Cavan is indicative of the demand for smaller, higher quality collections, valuing high aesthetic standards and tight curation over huge variety of inconsistent content.

The runaway growth of Stocksy and Offset is evidence of this.

Plus, as the world becomes more and more visual and image use continues increasing, brands and companies need more higher quality imagery to stand out in their own markets.


Serious entrepreneurs creating new businesses in the stock photo industry over the past few years have decided to take a different direction with their ventures.

Bruce & Brianna went with higher prices and restrictive participation with their co-op model in Stocksy.

Shutterstock created Offset and started their Enterprise service to tap into the premium sector.

Cavan Images is dominating the premium market with their consistent post-processing and super tight edits.

Dissolve – also launched by an iStock Founder, Pat Lor– ultimately went for premium pricing in their video offering.

When 500px decided to get into photo licensing, they chose a price point well above microstock levels.

What Is Premium?

All I’ve looked at here is higher than microstock level pricing. But, when talking about “premium”, most people take it to mean higher than regular Royalty Free level pricing.

This is what is usually called “Premium RF”, or even “PRF”, and in general is around $500 per image. Offset charges this sum for the full resolution file, and that is matched by many traditional agencies that have different prices for the different collections they resell.  Stocksy’s prices are way lower than this – as low as $20 for the smallest size – so many wouldn’t define their prices as “premium”, including themselves.

Whatever the criteria in definition and terminology, there’s definitely movement away from what has distinguished microstock since its inception.

Header image by Jack Jeffries via CavanImages

  • Pavel
    Posted at 03:56h, 29 January Reply

    How do you think, will describes bellow happens in video market after 3-5 years?

    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 11:41h, 29 January Reply

      I think Dissolve are already trying to do this. Video is growing faster but is much smaller, so the dynamics are different. It may not be as worthwhile for companies to invest. Shutterstock launched Offset for premium photos, but doesn’t have video footage there. Stocksy doesn’t have video. 500px doesn’t have video. It may, as you suggest, take a few years to happen, if it happens at all.

  • philippe bigard
    Posted at 15:23h, 02 February Reply

    We deleted all our accounts excepted Fotolia Infinite

    Here is the letter send to them

    As you know, producing professional images takes very important human, financial and implementation means.
    We note that the selling prices of our images on your platform are the same as non-professionals, and are far too low to meat cost efficiency for us.
    We understand that this policy aims at consolidating your market share in order to increase its value on financial markets, at the expense of producers.
    As a consequence, we ask you to stop distributing our Storimages collection and to remove all our images and/or clips from your database within 30 calendar days.
    For the appropriate legal purposes

    Philippe Bigard
    CEO Storimages


    • Lee Torrens
      Posted at 15:57h, 02 February Reply

      Good for you Philippe! But didn’t you check the prices before sending them your photos? What changed?

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